We may as well start at the beginning. And for the St Pete/Clearwater area, the beginning is located at Weedon Island Preserve. This low-lying peninsula consists of tidal marshes, pine scrub forests, incredible views of the Bay and ancient Indian mounds dating back more than 3,000 years. The preserve was the ancestral home to the Weedon Island People who gathered molluscs and shellfish in the bay. The pottery, tools and debris they left behind have taught scholars much of what they know about Florida’s ancient peoples.
Visit St Petersburg/ClearwaterFor visitors, however, the attraction is serene hiking trails, boardwalks and mangrove-lined kayaking canals. A great, free visitor’s centre sits on the property and features exhibits on the ancient people and their land. Also on display are the architectural finds unearthed by Smithsonian Institution excavations in the 1940s. Native Americans helped design the centre and it adheres to their traditions. For example, the building is orientated along the cardinal directions with its entrance facing east, towards the rising sun.
Visit St Petersburg/ClearwaterFast forward to some more recent history. During the 1920s the Florida land boom was in high gear and tourists began flooding the area in large numbers. Two of the largest hotels built during that decade are still with us, painted pink like they were the day they were built. They are downtown St Petersburg’s Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club and St Pete Beach’s Loews Don CeSar Hotel. They’re sometimes called The Pink Ladies, The Grande Dames, or in the Don’s case, “Godzilla in a Prom Dress.” Pop in for a drink at one of the historic bars, you might just run into movie stars and professional athletes. From presidents to personalities, they’ve all been coming here since both grand ladies opened.
Museums & Galleries
As if the gorgeous beaches, seafood and climate weren’t enough, St Petersburg has now reached world-class art circles with the new Dalí Museum. Its permanent collection of Dalí’s work is the world’s most comprehensive, including 96 oil paintings among its 2,100 pieces. The striking facility was designed by architect Yann Weymouth, who assisted with the recent renovation of the Louvre Museum in Paris. His design is intriguing, showcasing a liquid-like glass canopy pouring from a square concrete box. In an architectural illusion, the building appears to be resting on a giant boulder transported from Dalí’s homeland of Cadaques, Spain.
Visit St Petersburg/ClearwaterThe Chihuly Collection in downtown St Petersburg features the outlandish, oversized glass sculptures of studio glass pioneer Dale Chihuly. His sculptures usually make visitors stop and stare. For example, the collection includes the spectacular Ruby Red Icicle Chandelier, which unlike most modern art looks exactly like its title! Next door, the Studio & Hot Shop at the Morean Arts Center conveys just how all of this was made. Sit comfortably and watch artists manipulate the furnaces and kilns to make new art every day. Even better, you’ll have a chance to work side by side with them to produce your own blown-glass piece!
Don’t leave downtown without visiting the Museum of Fine Arts, featuring 4,000 objects, including works by Cezanne, Monet, Gauguin, Renoir and O’Keeffe. Exhibits also showcase Asian, Greek and Roman antiquities. The MFA Café dishes up gourmet salads, soups, sandwiches with a great view of the downtown waterfront.
The great thing about the arts in St Petersburg is that the major museums are all within easy walking distance of each other. Parks and green spaces adjoin the water, so while you’re strolling from one museum to another you’re looking out to the yacht basin, soaking up the sun.
Visit St Petersburg/ClearwaterLive Performances
Conclude a day at the museums with live music or a show. Jannus Landing in downtown St Petersburg is an intimate outdoor concert venue featuring all kinds of modern acts. This is a great place to catch heavy-hitting musicians in smaller places, so leave the binoculars at home.
The Mahaffey Theatre, located adjacent to the Dalí Museum, produces shows ranging from ballet to acoustic artists. St Pete is also home to The Florida Orchestra which performs more than 100 concerts annually. Shows include classical masterworks, pops and choral performances. If dinner theatre is your passion, try Ed Fletcher’s Early Bird Dinner Theatre with its off-Broadway productions and buffet dinner. Guests are permitted to bring their own wine to enjoy with dinner.
Feeling a bit more casual? Check the art-deco themed Beach Theatre in St Pete Beach. Its opening night was June 15, 1940. Saturday nights at the theatre often feature a Rocky Horror Picture Show event, and occasional Big Lebowski parties – complete with White Russian cocktails.
After any of these shows, loosen your tie and kick your feet up at The Brown Boxer, a Clearwater Beach pub and grille known for its live music. It’s casual, dog-friendly, and still frequented by its “founder” and namesake Hoot the Dog. Owned by Philadelphia ex-pats, they focus on northeast US specialties like cheese steak sandwiches, Italian sausage and draught domestic beers. It’s a great way to unwind and remember all the valuable cultural insights you picked up during the day!
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